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6 New Convenience Foods - Convenience Or Curse?

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

With the busy lives people lead nowadays, convenience foods are flying off grocery store shelves. But are consumers paying too high a price, in terms of money and health, for quick and easy food? Here, about once a month, well check out grocery products and let you know if theyre worth your money.

Against the laws of nature
Whats with all the blue food on store shelves these days? Its not even a nice, natural purplish blueberry blue -- there are screaming neon blue gelatins, puddings, cereals and cookie fillings. And now, Im sorry to report there are blue French fries.

And that’s not all. In addition to the Kool Blue variety, Ore Ida’s new line of Funky Fries (the name is accurate, because they sure are funky) offers Sour Cream & Jive, Crunchy Rings, Cinna-Stiks and Cocoa Crispers.

Chocolate French fries. Really.

The first time I spotted these in the grocery store, the boys refused to try them. It took a week of wheedling before they’d agree to sample Funky Fries.

We paid $2 each for the blue ones and the chocolate. A non-resealable bag has about seven 17-piece servings.

I was confused about the chocolate ones. Are they a side dish, dessert or snack? We decided to cook both flavors as a mid-morning snack, after our basketball practice when we’re all ravenous.

I baked one serving of each kind (they’re not meant to be fried) and called in the boys.

The blue ones were surprisingly crispy and actually tasted good. They even stayed crispy after cooling off.

The chocolate ones were just as yucky as we feared, and Hubby wouldn’t even try them. His comment was, “Gross!” He was right -- they’re too sweet and have an intense artificial flavor.

But even though we thought the blue fries were tasty, none of us want to eat them again. For one thing, we want our fries to be golden brown. The other reason we’ll avoid them is the nutrition information. Even though these fries are baked, their calorie and fat values are shocking.

Here’s how they breakdown, per 17-piece serving:

Kool Blue: 250 calories, 15 grams of fat (24 percent of the daily allowance based on a 2,000-calorie diet, and 2.5 of them are saturated), zero cholesterol, 540 milligrams sodium (22 percent of the daily allowance), 20 grams carbohydrate (1 fiber, less than 1 sugars) and 2 grams protein.

Cocoa Crispers: 300 calories, 16 grams fat (2.5 saturated), zero cholesterol, 360 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrate (2 fiber, 19 sugars) and 1 gram protein.

Compare these to store brand “Grade A Fancy Crinkle Cut French Fried Potatoes,” which per baked 18-piece serving have 130 calories, 4 grams of fat (1 saturated), zero cholesterol, 320 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrate (2 fiber, zero sugars) and 2 grams protein.

My final word: I think some people might be lulled into thinking Funky Fries is a healthy snack because it’s based on potatoes. The nutrition info speaks for itself. I’m also wondering to whom they would appeal. Toddlers maybe?

Interesting bit of trivia: McCain Foods, which makes the store brand of French fries I bought, also makes Ore-Ida French fries that are sold commercially, such as to cafeterias and restaurants. But it’s Heinz that makes the Ore-Ida Funky Fries.

Terribly sinful

We checked out three of the four varieties of the new Dinner Starters from Louis Rich. For about $4, you get a plate-size box containing about a cup of large diced grilled chicken breast and a plastic packet of sauce: Teriyaki, Sweet & Sour, Four Cheese or Alfredo. You provide your own rice or pasta.

I'd say we all tried them but our younger son is anti-sauce, so he ate plain grilled chicken and brown rice. Turns out he was the smart one in the family.

These meal kits are extremely easy to prepare. Simply mix the chicken and sauce, then warm in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove. While it’s suggested that the Four Cheese flavor be served over pasta, I served it, the Teriyaki and the Sweet & Sour over brown rice. Each box says it has about three 1/2-cup servings, which is reasonable if youre also having a couple of other side dishes.

As for taste, our older son inhaled all of the teriyaki after Hubby and I each had a few bites. We all liked that one. The 12-year-old and I thought the sweet and sour was way too sweet, but Hubby said it was “all right.” And while our son shunned the cheesy sauce, Hubby and I liked that one the best.

It figures. That one is the most fat-laden, and we all know that Fat = Taste. Sigh...

The nutrition numbers per 1/2-cup serving are discouraging: Four Cheese: 300 calories (210 from fat), 23 grams fat (12 saturated), 95 milligrams cholesterol, 1,060 milligrams sodium, 3 grams carbohydrate (2 sugars) and 21 grams protein.

Teriyaki: 220 calories (25 from fat), 3 grams fat, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 1,390 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate (16 sugars) and 16 grams protein.

Sweet & Sour: 190 calories (25 from fat), 3 grams fat, 45 milligrams cholesterol, 830 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrate (20 sugars) and 15 grams protein.

This is definitely a case of trading healthy nutrition for convenience. The cheese version has almost two-thirds of the daily allowance of saturated fat and 44 percent of the sodium. The teriyaki is low in fat, but has 58 percent of the daily allowance of sodium. Our least favorite flavor, the sweet and sour, still has 35 percent of the sodium allowance.

It’s almost as easy to grill my own chicken, then mix orange juice, soy sauce (just enough to cut the sweetness), corn starch, ginger and garlic to make my own sweet and sour sauce. It’s certainly much healthier.

Mindless munching
Want a disgusting snack? Try Bordens new 3-D Cheese chunks, which cost about $1.25 for 70 pieces.

These are nickel-size cheese bits in the shapes of sports balls that come in American, Pizza or Nacho flavors. The package says they’re “Soft & Chewy, but the boys and I think theyre so rubbery they really could be miniature soccer balls.

What’s worse, each 14-piece serving has 90 calories (50 from fat), 6 grams of fat (3.5 saturated), 18 milligrams cholesterol, 400 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrate (0 fiber, less than 1 sugars) and 4 grams protein.

While the boys and I couldn’t imagine anyone making it through a 14-piece serving, one Sunday afternoon Hubby ate half a bag while watching NASCAR.

“Not bad,” he said, reaching for another handful and munching his way through the race.

I couldn’t bear to watch.

You'll Scooby Roo the day
Riding on the wave of Scooby Mania, Keebler has a limited edition of Scooby Mini Sandwich Cookies. Think mini Oreos, only not as tasty. This version is harder and crunchier than the old cream-filled sandwich cookie icon.

I never could figure out the appeal of miniature Oreos, anyway: They’re too hard to dunk.

The nutrition information isn’t encouraging, either. A $2 box has about eight 7-cookie servings, and each serving has 140 calories (50 from fat), 5 grams fat (1 saturated), zero cholesterol, 90 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrate (less than 1 of fiber, 12 sugars) and 1 gram protein.

My experience in eating miniature cookies is to reach into the box and pull out a handful, which would equal about one serving. Do I stop at one handful? Usually not, and I imagine most other people who eat them don’t either. It’s easy to mindlessly eat a few handfuls because they’re so little, and then realize too late that it was a triple serving.

The boys didn’t care much for these Scooby snacks. Almost six weeks after I bought a box, half of it remained.

Unnecessary assistance

When I married Hubby 20 years ago, I promised him two things: I would not have any product selling parties at our home (i.e. Tupperware or Mary Kay cosmetics), and I would not serve him “Helper” meals, such as Hamburger Helper.

We broke the second rule, for the sake of research, to check out Betty Crocker’s new Homestyle Chicken & Mashed Potatoes Chicken Helper. I knew better than to even try and serve it to the boys they had lean burgers, peas and applesauce that night. Hubby and I were jealous.

For about $1.50 you get a box with packets of dry gravy mix and seasoned instant mashed potatoes. You provide four boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks, that are sautéed in butter. When the outside of the chicken turns white, add water, milk and the gravy mix and simmer.

While the chicken is cooking, mix boiling water, milk and butter with the potato flakes. In a few minutes the entree is ready, the idea being to serve the potatoes with the chicken and gravy on top.

The box is supposed to contain six 1-cup servings, but Hubby and I easily ate all of the potatoes. About half the gravy was left over, so we each ate a serving and a half of that.

Our verdict: so-so. It’s nothing we’d care to eat again. It was too salty and excessively starchy.

Each prepared half-cup serving has 9 grams fat (2 saturated), 50 milligrams cholesterol, 790 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate (2 sugars) and 20 grams protein.

Messing with tradition

Loyal readers already know my feelings about tinkering with junk food icons. Leave ’em alone, I say!

My family thinks Nabisco made a huge mistake with its new Double Delight Oreos. The chocolate cookie parts are the same, but the filling is half peanut butter, half chocolate creme.

The boys wouldn’t even try them, so you might think about asking your children about their initial impressions before spending around $3.50 for 24 cookies. Hubby and I gave them a shot: I kind of like the peanut butter filling, but think the chocolate creme is way too sweet. Hubby simply didn’t care for them at all. We’re going to give away the rest of the package.

The nutrition info gives us even more reason to give Double Delights a pass: One 2-cookie serving has 140 calories, 7 grams of fat (1.5 saturated), zero cholesterol, 150 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate (1 fiber, 12 sugars) and 2 grams protein.

Becky Billingsley, a.k.a. The Check-Out Chick, is the mother of two, a wife for 20 years and a food writer. Like most busy moms, she often relies on convenience foods to get meals on the table in a hurry. She worries about whether these items provide proper nutrition and if she sacrifices too much of her grocery budget in exchange for ease of preparation.

*****************

Looking for a few tasteful jokes you can share with family and friends? Well, you're in luck... we've got the latest of the greatest sent in by readers. Enjoy!

My friend Rosalia passed along a few funnies that slightly tarnish the aura of Golden-Agers. Please don't get angry -- eDiets loves seniors! :o)

A man was telling his neighbor, "I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me $4,000, but it's state of the art."

"Really?" answered the neighbor. "What kind is it?"

"Twelve-thirty."

Joke 2: As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on Interstate 280. Please be careful!"

"It's not just one car," said Herman. "It's hundreds of them!"

Marjorie Healey calls this her all-time favorite joke...

Question: What do you get when you cross a hundred deer and a hundred pigs?
Answer: Two hundred sows and bucks. ($200,000)

Jessica Clark caps off this week's column with...

Three men are waiting outside the delivery room with the hospital chaplain as the nurse comes out and calls, "Mr. Smith, congratulations you have twins!" Mr. Smith replies, "That's so funny because I work for the Minnesota Twins."

Shortly thereafter another nurse comes out and announces "Mr. Jones, congratulations you have triplets!" Mr. Jones replies, "Wow, that's kind of amazing the last guy worked for the Twins and had twins -- I had triplets and I work for Triple A."

Just then the third gentleman turns ghostly white and begins sweating, as he darts for the door the chaplain stops him and says, "Son, your wife is in having your child why are you leaving like this?" The gentleman replies "The first guy had twins and works for the Twins... the second works for Triple A and had triplets... I work for 7-Eleven."

******************

Until next week, the kitchen is closed. But if you have any questions and/or comments, feel free to write me, eDiets editor-in-chief John McGran at john@ediets.com.

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